Bristol’s first Hackday to help asylum seekers and refugees through digital technology was a great success

Full storify of photos and tweets of the event FB: Bristol Refugee Hackday Twitter: @BrisRefugeeHD 

Bristol’s first Hackday[1] to help asylum seekers and refugees through digital technology was a great success.

Last weekend a group of people got together at the Trinity Arts Centre, Easton to develop digital tools to help with some of the issues that asylum seekers and refugees in Bristol face in their day to day lives.

Hi-Res Photos of the Event

Those with coding and technical skills, social media and web skills worked together with those who have personal experience of the asylum system and the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in Bristol. This is the first time such an event has taken place in Bristol, following similar events in others parts of the UK and the world[2] and prior to the Techfugees Cambridge Conference[3], being held this coming weekend. It showed that Bristol, a city of sanctuary[4] and the leader in digital innovation in the UK[5] is playing its part in using digital technology to help refugees.[6] The event was held during Refugee Week, as part of the Bristol Refugee Festival[7].

The participants worked really hard. Sigy Pearce, who worked in a team on the Bristol Food Network Project said “Everyone is really relaxed, but at the same time very engaged in what they are doing and wanting to help. The amount of thinking is quite tiring, but there is a very positive atmosphere.”

With the event coming shortly after Bristol University announced their new sanctuary scholarship[8], it was another opportunity for refugees and others to learn and share their skills. Light, one the participants, who is a refugee himself, won a one day HTML/CSS workshop with Developme, a local Bristol coding school[9], due to his hard work during the event.

There were 7 projects that formed at the event and there were three awards.

  1. Bristol Refugee Food Network – Linking up refugees and asylum seekers with others in Bristol to eat together. Matching people who want to cook, who have space and who have ingredients and those who want to eat to come together and share a meal.
  2. Refugee Stories – A safe space for refugees to share any stories from the life they wish to share, linking up with existing projects and groups to do that in a supported way and adding tagging and indexing to allow people to find stories that match their research, interest or activities, for example stories related to the internet and daily life in Bristol would have been useful for our event.
  3. Asylum Dawn – A mobile-enabled website to connect asylum seekers and refugees to the support organisations and services.
  4. Refugee Data – A project aimed on gathering statistics and information about numbers of asylum seekers and refugees in Bristol and their situations, to help organisations apply for funding and support their service provision.
  5. SkillShack – A skill sharing platform where asylum seekers and refugees can arrange to meet up with people for one-to-one skill sharing or find out about classes. Volunteers can sign up to share their skills
  6. Sleep and Eat – A daily guide of where to eat and sleep for homeless people, including refugees and asylum seekers.
  7. Detention Guardian – allows asylum seekers at risk of being detained in immigration detention to back up their contacts numbers, since their smartphones are confiscated once they are detained. They can then call a number and enter a pin to either collect their contacts numbers or to notify those individuals whose numbers they have saved in contact guardian by SMS that they have been detained.

Judges Tim KindbergDominic Cushnan and Suad Abdullahi gave 3 awards.
Immediate Need Award – Jointly Awarded to Asylum Dawn and Sleep and Eat,
Creativity Award – Contact Guardian,
Collaboration and Co-creation Award – Bristol Refugee Food Network

The idea for having a Bristol Refugee Hackday was primarily inspired by a London event called EmpowerHack focused specifically on the needs of refugee women and girls.  Ruth Hennell, Bristol Refugee Hackday co-organiser, said:“I have been actively campaigning around asylum policies in the UK for the past 5 years and it is frustrating, because things are very slow.  “After the London event, I realized that we have a very strong network of organisations in Bristol that are helping asylum seekers and refugees and we can do more. Technology cannot solve all the problems, but we can address some of the issues asylum seekers face in Bristol.”

Alba Lanau, another of the organisers said:

“We hope some of the projects will be taken forward to be fully developed. We are working with our sponsors to make sure the teams will have space to meet and work if they wish to do so, and there will be post-hackathon events to share all that has been achieved in the day with the broader community. This is just the beginning! We aim to establish new connections between the refugee and the tech community. Refugees are often extremely qualified, as many were professionals in their country of origin. There is lots of untapped potential that could contribute so much to the city.”

Anyone who wishes to get involved with moving the projects from this event forward should

For more information about the event and what happens next visit:

[1] Hackdays or Hackathons are events that bring people with different skills together to develop digital projects around an issue or theme and usually take place over a weekend.
[2] Around the world Hackathons to support refugees have generally been very successful.
[4] Since June 2011
[5] Huawei UK Smart Cities index 92/100 Digital innovation and Bristol is identified as one of only two cities in the country named as a smart city Leader, the other being London.
[6] The Hackday was sponsored by Trinity Community Initiatives, part of Trinity Community Arts Centre, Connecting Bristol – a tech partnership linked with Bristol City Council’s Innovation Team, and digital agencies Thundr Lightnin and Torch Box.

About the main organisers

Ruth Hennell: Ruth has been involved in various refugee organisations and campaigns in Bristol since 2011, particularly related to social media and online campaigning and came up with the idea of the Refugee Hackday after attending other Hackathon events. She coordinated the Asylum Seekers in Bristol blog project and is currently working on raising awareness of refugee issues within the Internet Governance arena.

Alba Lanau: Alba is a researcher at Cardiff University specialised in applied quantitative data analysis in the social sciences. She has been involved with voluntary sector organisations for the last 10 years as a volunteer, helping with grant applications and running events.
Silvia Jimenez Cruz:  Silvia is a charity communications officer, illustrator (who created our logo!) and is a trustee of Bristol Hospitality Network.
Charlotte Bella: Charlotte is a Digital Project Manager at CLIC Sargent – cancer support charity for the young. She has been organising and taking part in hackathons for social good since the start of 2016 and is a certified hackathon facilitator, trained by the NHS Innovations team.

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